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Jackson v. Collins

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

May 31, 2017

RANDALL JACKSON, Plaintiff,
v.
ISAAC SONNY COLLINS, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          NANETTE K. LAUGHREY United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Randall Jackson asks the Court to reconsider and vacate, Doc. 180, two Orders previously entered in this case: an Order denying Jackson's motion for partial summary judgment, Doc. 153 (entered 9/26/2016), and an Order denying Jackson's second motion for class certification, Doc. 167 (entered 1/30/2017). The motion is denied.

         I. Background

         Jackson is an atheist. Following convictions relating to driving while intoxicated, he was incarcerated in Missouri Department of Corrections prisons from 2006-2008 and 2010-2014. Jackson originally filed this case pro se in 2012, alleging that the Missouri Department of Corrections violated his rights under the First Amendment. He alleged that he was subject to a parole stipulation requiring him to attend and complete a substance abuse program, and that the Department was coercing him to participate in religion-based programming, Alcoholics Anonymous, in order to gain access to the benefit of early parole.

         The Hon. Fernando Gaitan dismissed the case with prejudice under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, but the decision was reversed on Jackson's appeal. Jackson v. Nixon, 747 F.3d 537 (8th Cir. 2014); Doc. 21.[1] The Eighth Circuit held that while inmates have no constitutional right to early parole, Jackson did have the right to be free from unconstitutional burdens when availing himself of existing ways to access the benefit of early parole. The Eighth Circuit held that he had “pled facts sufficient to state a claim that a parole stipulation requiring him to attend and complete a substance abuse program with religious content in order to be eligible for early parole violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.” 747 F.3d at 543; Doc. 21, p. 8.

         Jackson then filed his First Amended Complaint, including class allegations. Doc. 42. Jackson alleged that he is a sincere and committed atheist, and that his practice of atheism includes not participating in prayer to supernatural beings; accepting responsibility for his own life; and refusing to admit that ultimate responsibility for his actions depends on the intervention of a supernatural being. Doc. 42, pp. 12-13, ¶¶ 38 and 40. He alleged that the Department's repeated refusal to permit him to be expressly and specifically identified as an atheist in his prison file violates the First Amendment and RLUIPA, and asked that the Department be required to amend its forms to permit an inmate to indicate his religious preference as atheism, and to be identified on the face sheet in his prison files as an atheist. Id. at pp. 35-36. Jackson also alleged that officials from the Department, and Gateway Foundations, Inc., the company that the Department hired to administer substance abuse treatment programs in the Missouri prisons, violated his rights as an atheist by requiring him to participate in substance abuse treatment programs in the prisons such as Alcoholics Anonymous, which requires its participants to recognize and rely upon a “Higher Power” to remedy their problems with alcohol. Jackson made claims on behalf of himself and a putative class under both: (1) 42 U.S.C. § 1983, through the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution; and (2) the Religious Land Use Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1.

         In February 2015, Judge Gaitan granted in part the State Defendants' motion to dismiss. Doc. 83 (Order dated 2/16/2015).[2] In May 2015, the judge entered an Order denying Jackson's first motion for class certification without prejudice, and permitting Jackson to file another motion after discovery and rulings on summary judgment. Doc. 96 (Order dated 5/8/2015). The primary reason the judge denied the motion was Jackson's failure to demonstrate numerosity under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a)(1). Defendant Gateway and Cummins' motion to dismiss was denied in June 2015. Doc. 106 (Order dated 6/23/2015).

         After discovery, Jackson moved for summary judgment on his claim that certain Missouri Department of Corrections practices should be declared unconstitutional and enjoined.[3] Defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims. Judge Gaitan denied Jackson's motion, ruling that the claim for equitable relief had become moot when Jackson was released from prison in December 2014, and granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment with respect to that claim. Doc. 153 (Order dated 9/26/2016). The judge further granted the Defendants' motions for summary judgment with respect to Jackson's claim that the Department of Corrections' refusal to permit him to expressly identify himself as an atheist on prison forms violated his First Amendment rights, as well as Jackson's claim for individual damages under RLUIPA. Id.[4]

         Jackson then moved for class certification for a second time, seeking to represent the following classes under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(2):

• All prisoners who are eligible or ordered to receive substance abuse treatment in one of MDOC's substance abuse treatment programs and who would object to the faith-based requirements of those programs, if MDOC made clear the availability of a genuinely secular, non-faith-based program, and the prisoners could trust MDOC not to prolong their custody because they objected to the religious components or selected a secular path.
• All prisoners in MDOC's custody who do not believe in a god.

Doc. 155, p. 10. Jackson sought only declaratory and injunctive relief for these proposed classes. Judge Gaitan denied the motion to certify, on the bases that Jackson failed to meet any of the requirements of Rule 23(a), and that the mootness of Jackson's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief meant the Rules Enabling Act operated to prohibit Jackson from serving as a class representative. Doc. 167 (Order dated 1/30/2017). Jackson filed a petition for leave to file an interlocutory appeal in the Eighth Circuit, which was denied. Doc. 169 (Court of Appeals Judgment dated 3/9/2017).

         Judge Gaitan subsequently recused himself from this case, Doc. 172 (Order dated 3/24/2017), and the case was randomly reassigned.

         In his motion to reconsider and vacate, Jackson asks this Court to review Judge Gaitan's rulings de novo, and identifies the following reasons why his motion should be granted:

• “Judge Gaitan incorrectly ruled that plaintiff's claims for declaratory relief are moot.”
• “Judge Gaitan erred in finding that plaintiff…cannot be a class representative because he is no longer subject to the policies he challenges.”
• “Judge Gaitan incorrectly granted summary judgment against plaintiff on his claim that the State's refusal to permit him to accurately identify his religion as ‘atheism' on prison identification forms [in violation of] the First Amendment and RLUIPA.”
• “Judge Gaitan erred in denying plaintiff's second motion for class certification[, ]” specifically because “a. Certifying plaintiff's proposed class does not violate the Rules Enabling Act” and “b. Numerous people are subject to and offended by [the Missouri Department of Correction's challenged policies.”

Doc. 180, pp. 24, 25, 27, 31, and 33 of 38.

         II. Discussion

         A. The standard for reconsideration of the two Orders.

         Generally, a district court has broad discretion in determining whether to grant a motion to reconsider. In re Levaquin Products Liab. Litig., 739 F.3d 401, 404 (8th Cir. 2014). However, such a motion “serve[s] a limited function: to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence.” Arnold v. Sec. Servs., Inc., 627 F.3d 716, 721 (8th Cir. 2010). It “is not a vehicle for simple reargument on the merits.” Broadway v. Norris, 193 F.3d 987, 990 (8th Cir. 1999). In other words, motions to reconsider do not generally start over consideration of previously-ruled motions.

         Jackson argues, however, that Judge Gaitan's impartiality may be called into question in view of the timing of the recusal, i.e., the judge had already presided over the case for several years, Doc. 180, pp. 22-23 of 28, and because a portion of the ruling on Jackson's motion for summary judgment “is internally inconsistent, ” which “shows bias against” him, Doc. 186, p. 2. Therefore, he argues, this Court should consider the Orders de novo. Doc. 189, p. 23 of 28 (and citations therein). Nothing in Jackson's motion to reconsider convinces this Court that de novo review is appropriate.

         Judge Gaitan's recusal order simply states that he recuses and directs that the case be transferred. Doc. 171. There are, of course, numerous reasons why a judge may recuse from a case over which he has presided for several years, from avoiding having to travel to conduct trial in another city, to choosing to decrease one's case load, to reasons provided under 28 U.S.C. § 455, which addresses judicial disqualification. In any event, “[j]udges are under no obligation to provide a statement of reasons for recusal[.]” United States v. Casas, 376 F.3d 20, 23 (1st Cir. 2004). Rather, they are “presumed to be impartial, and a party seeking recusal of a judge must bear the substantial burden of proving otherwise.” Roe v. St. Louis Univ., 746 F.3d 874, 886 (8thCir. 2014) (internal quotations and citation omitted). Therefore, the Court begins with a presumption of impartiality.

         As for Jackson's substantial burden to prove otherwise, none of the authorities that he cites suggests that the timing of the recusal suffices to show bias or partiality[5], nor is the Court aware of any such authority. It is also well-established that “adverse rulings alone are not evidence of bias.” Liteky v. United States, 510 U.S. 540, 555 (1994). Indeed, a contrary inference would be illogical here, inasmuch as Judge Gaitan issued adverse rulings against both Jackson and the Defendants throughout the proceedings. Doc. 153. The Court concludes that whether considered singly or together, Jackson's arguments ...


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